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Biden set to fill long-vacant farm trade job

Russia’s military blockade of Ukraine is withholding millions of tons of grain from the world’s food supply, threatening to financially strangle kyiv and worsen hunger crises around the world. The crisis has upended global food trade and markets, with countries in Africa and the Middle East scrambling to find new sources of grains and cooking oils as the United States tries to dissuade countries from impose trade restrictions on cereals and other staple foods. If confirmed as undersecretary, Taylor will serve as the department’s primary liaison with other U.S. agencies and foreign governments on these and other issues affecting the global food supply.

Taylor would come from a state whose the economy is heavily dependent on foreign trade and is steeped in political tensions that have made foreign trade agreements a political liability in recent years.

The administration has struggled to fill the job of undersecretary and another key farm trade position since Biden took office.

As POLITICO first reported in March, Elaine Trevino, who was shortlisted for the position of chief agriculture negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative, withdrew from the confirmation process six months after her first announcement. nomination. His appointment ran into trouble during verification in the Joint Committee on Taxation, according to two people familiar with the appointment.

The vetting process has become a sticking point between Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the White House, according to two people. In public remarks to a national farm organization in March, Vilsack suggested the White House’s ethical review had been too strict and prevented them from selecting qualified applicants. Vilsack said he understood the White House’s concerns about ethics, particularly after the Trump administration, but added, “We have to find a middle point where we support the message of ethics, but make sure that we can find people to serve”. A candidate for undersecretary was told he would have to sell his farm to take the job, a suggestion that was largely privately rejected by USDA officials.

Republicans and some Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have grown frustrated with prolonged absences from the two key agricultural trade positions.

Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley in March, lambasted “the lackadaisical approach this administration has taken to trade and in particular without putting enough emphasis on agriculture.”

The administration is also tapping Stacy Dean, the current USDA deputy assistant secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, to lead the division, according to three people. His appointment comes ahead of the White House Hunger and Nutrition Summit this fall and as White House Biden seeks to raise awareness of the role of diet-related diseases in the United States and their additional health risk of Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ximena Bustillo and Steven Overly contributed to this report.

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